Thursday, August 31

Plant of the Month: August 2006

Mimosa Pudica
Sensitive Plant

A short entry this month inspired by the surreal video found on the University of Indiana's biology server:

This plant has been identified as the Ayurvedic herb lajjalu. The bark from a close relative of this plant, Mimosa hostilis, is used in Brazilian Ayahuasca brews. It presents a pharmacological anamoly because the DMT available is orally active without any MAOI, unlike any other phytoindolic entheogens.

Other notable plants with intrinsic response movements include Desmodium gyrans (another Ayahuasca herb containing DMT) and Stylidium sp.

Tuesday, August 29

Gertrude the Gopher

GertrudeA new friend has taken up residence in my front yard; how can one sustainably treat pest matters around the home/farm? Pesticides and chemical deterrents may very well do more harm than good in the greater scope of things.

This German website (Translated) offers a Euphorbia species as a remedy for those "troubled by Wühlmäusen." It owes this unique property to Ingenol-3-angelate, purportedly a "tumor promoter." It also suggests Fritillaria imperialis, due to its Imperialine. Ever-useful PFAF notes that "The flowers smell of wet fur and garlic," which seems to be a reasonable deterrant in and of itself.

Invariably commercial botanic gopher repellents include garlic, castor oil, or dandelion.

The Gopher Getters shun other phytoremedial techniques for common marigolds. This may be the most convincing (and least toxic) suggestion. Marigolds are often used in tribal remedies and are widely renowned for their nematocidal activity. Tegete oil is a derivitive used most notably for bowfly deterrent and mosquito larvacide. Additionally, this remedy may not kill the vermin but merely force it off your properly marigold-lined property.

If all else fails: "Freeze, Gopher!"

Friday, August 25

Creative Cartography

Salvia argenteaThe lull in Horticultured posts recently is due to the beginning of the Fall Semester and my reticent absorption into breadth classes required for transfer. However i've started some Frappr maps to enhance entries in this blog considerably.

To aid in your native plant location efforts should you decide plant bombs sound like a good idea:

Native Plant Map

And for all you would-be ethnopharmacologists:

Entheogen Plant Map

User participation is crucial to a sucessful map so add some plants that you've noticed growing around your area.

Please be mindful when collecting seed/taking cuttings from wild or landscaped specimens as they are not your property and should be treated as such. A few snips or some collected seed is understandable but uprooting a plant to suit your needs is worse than doing nothing at all.

Friday, August 11

Cyclops: I am Undone

Veratrum californicumThere are few creatures of myth that maintain man's rapt attention as well as the mighty cyclops of ancient Greece. Could it be possible that the true inspiration for such an alien creature be rooted in earthly reality?

A mother in India gave birth to a one-eyed child. It is believed the deformation is caused by Cyclopamine, a derivitive of Veratrum californicum. Welcome to the wonderful world of teratogenesis!

Historically there are two versions of the monster. The first are Theogony's Cyclopes, three primordial sons of Uranus and Gaia, the earthly creator gods. They forged and bestowed the almighty lightning bolts utilized by Zeus, Perseus' helmet, Poseidon's trident, and Artemis' bow and arrows. As the brothers of the Hecatonchires (literally "the hundred-handed") they most likely only represented metaphoric blacksmiths, one eye being invisible due to the patch often worn by metalworkers of the period for protection from flying sparks.

Alternatively there is the Cyclops of Homer's Odyssey, a one-eyed creature known as Polyphemus that inhabited an island somewhere in the Mediterranean. A flock of sheep are pivotal to the story and in the end the Cyclops' eye is gouged out and he is left by Odysseus and the remaining party to die. Could it be that this supposed son of Poseidon was in fact a teratogenic mishap that made his way into history?

Veratrum album is a cosmopolitan plant known to many European regions and its medicinal properties were utilized despite its paralyzing neurotoxic effect. Homer's island of the cyclops is generally believed to be Sicily, and it may have been teeming with the plant, nearly indistiguishable from its American cousin. Perhaps a Sicilian woman used a Veratrum preparation and birthed what became the Cyclops monster of myth.

I must forewarn that ingestion of any amount of Veratrum will result in paralysis, unconsciousness, then death. For all your teratogenic needs please stick with Accutane, widely available on American and International pharmacy shelves.

Wednesday, August 9

Blooming Today 2

Euphorbia milii

Euphorbia milii - This Madagascar native belongs to a number of plants with the common name "Crown of Thorns." This is a succulent spined shrub, not the historical Thorns of the Passion. When injured the stems leaks a caustic latex common to all euphorbias. The flowers come in many colors and sizes, numerous exotic and patterned types are being hybridized and exported as a major nursery product in Thailand.

Neoregelea sp.

Neoregelea sp. - Blooming from the muck in the basin in the center of this bromeliad are a number of small violet flowers that recede back into the nutrient soup once the sun goes down. Particularly alien looking are the spent flowers that remain visible under the blooming ones. Contrast in the spotted leaves make this specimen stand out in a landscape.

Kalanchoe beharensis 'Fang'

Kalanchoe beharensis 'Fang' - Another Madagascar native this giant Kalanchoe species has a field of tooth-like protrusions on the underside of its large fleshy leaves. I purchased the item originally because of its uncanny resemblance to the alien cabbage creature from the Ren and Stimpy episode "Marooned."

Commander Hoek: WE'RE MAROONED!
Cadet Stimpy: Just like the title of this cartoon!

Friday, August 4

Plant Bombs

Apios americanaWe're all feeling the heat this summer. Civilization is overstepping it's boundaries and the environment is pushing back. Welcome to Heat Island! Areas with lower concentrations of vegetation have higher amounts of reflected heat from concrete, asphalt, and Boho shades. In today's age of fleeing and surrendering natural resources what is a neo-hippie to do? Plant bombs!

No, seriously. The decreasing ratio of greenbelt to urban sprawl leaves little alternative to reclaiming territory for native species. This is the definitive guide to "Seed Bombs" and making the most of your guerilla germination experience.

First and foremost seeds must be chosen and collected for ammunition. It is of utmost importance that the seeds you select for the grenades are native to your area and benefit the local ecology rather than override it. For US residents the website is the ultimate resource. The advanced search form allows you to specify:

  1. US Plants or Worldwide (Only US/NA Plants)
  2. County Distribution (Your County)
  3. Image Gallery (Only with Images)
  4. Propagated by Seed (Yes)
  5. Fruit/Seed Period Begin (The Current Season)
Click the radio boxes at the end of each filter to "Display in Report" to assure each plant reaches your specified requirements (most importantly nativity). Further narrowing of the results can be done through the other available variables such as taxonomy, morphology, and sustainability. The reasoning to restricting the search to entries with photos is to give yourself some visual reference in respect to the native plants that still actually exist in your area. Look for a species that you recognize as being available. Finding native species doesn't do much good without access to said species. A search for my county this season returns a list of about 120, and the most visually recognizable to me is Acacia longifolia. It is not a noxious weed and seems to grow quickly and adapts to a variety of cultural conditions; this is a suitable plant for bombing. Now for boot camp.

There are a few sources on the science of assembly, but none of them are very wholistic and some (the second link) suggest building the bomb inside a discarded christmas ornament or water balloon. This is a good idea in theory but i'm afraid in practice it would be counterproductive. The requirements for a seed bomb are minimal: seeds, soil, nutrients, and moisture. Ideally the bomb shouldn't include any materials that aren't organic/readily biodegradable.

I begin by wetting a mixture of vermiculite, time-release fertilizer, fine peat moss and three or four of the selected seeds. Turn the mixture until it is wet and moldable; you may have to squeeze out some water if you added too much. Encase palm-sized lumps of this in denser, clay-based soil and make a sort of shell to hold the contents together at the point of impact. You can pad the outside of the bombs with straw or large leaves to increase their cohesiveness but it's not totally necessary. Your seed bomb may vary in ratios and materials (compost instead of fertilizer, native soil instead of vermiculite and peat moss, etc.) but the principles remain the same.

Finally, you need to scout an area to bomb. Target areas include empty lots, easements that are arid and unplanted, neighbors with nothing but Home Depot annuals and expansive lawns that they water 4 times a day; anywhere that the sprouted seeds are likely to go undisturbed and won't dry out too quickly before germinating. The advantage of using native plants is many are very drought tolerant once established in their intended environment and won't require additional tending by you (or anyone for that matter).

Viva la Revolucion!

Thursday, August 3

Blooming Today 1

Aristolochia fimbriata
Aristolochia fimbriata - A strange looking Dutchman's Pipe that serves as a host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail. It relies on small flies to pollinate the intricate (and foul smelling) blossoms. Commonly known as Birthwort due to its vague resemblance to a curled fetus in the womb..

Huernia schneideriana
Huernia schneideriana - Often hidden under serpentine vegetation the Red Dragon Flower is relatively small but packs a punch. The faint smell of rotting flesh helps attracts flies to the leathery blooms.

Nepenthes alata

Nepenthes alata 3
Nepenthes alata - The Winged Pitcher Plant may not be malodorous, but it sure collects flies. Small fruit gnats and some smaller moths stumble onto the slippery labia and slide into the digestive soup. Georgia O'Keefe would be proud.

Finally, but not in my garden, is the Rafflesia sp. unfurling its meaty petals. It is the largest single bloom ever recorded and lures flies and other fetid rainforest fauna with its hairy goodness. Aeon Flux anyone?

Wednesday, August 2

Gorey Details

The wry cartoon shown here was posted on Harpers earlier last month and has been a topic of heated debate among me and compatriots.

Al may mean well, but as usual Harpers cuts to the bone. What alternative is there to alternative (corn) energy? Journey to Forever provides a rather exhaustive amount of information concerning biodiesel and its production and corn oil is most definitely not at the top of their list.

The most generously yielding oilseeds include the Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) and a few of the greasier landscape trees. Interestingly enough the first non-arborescent perennial on the list is Jatropha curmas, a Caribbean hedgerow shrub with 10 times the oil producing capability of the illustrious corncob. A review by Purdue U summarizes the cultural and ethnobotanical uses for this sustainable crop, including the cure for cancer!

Simmondsia chinensis is the plant from which Jojoba oil comes, and yields are considerably greater than that of corn. It is a California/Mexico native shrub and the oil produced is a rare straight chain ester (with comparatively low iodine value) making it extremely viable as biodiesel component. Somehow it's saving the whales, too.

Of course, any monoculture is not sustainable and is ecologically unsound and harmful. Thats another story, though.